Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kosmo The Dino.(The Well; Paleontology).


all-the-dinosaur-were-gone, originally uploaded by ½ '.
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The movie trailer writes itself: Long ago, on the lost continent of Laramidia, lived the mysterious Kosmoceratops, a 3-ton, 15-horned beast that roamed--and ruled--the swamps it called home. Box-office gold, perhaps, but this would be the rare dinosaur movie based entirely on fact.

According to a new paper published in the online science journal PLoS One, the Kosmoceratops--paleontology's latest addition to the dinosaur family--inhabited the earth some 76 million years ago. And Laramidia--better known as western North America--was a real place, separated from the eastern half of the continent by a great inland sea. The publication of the paper is a reminder of not only how many secrets the age of dinosaurs has yet to yield but also how vital it is to protect the lands in which those mysteries are buried.

The continent that Kosmoceratops called home existed fleetingly, from 95 million to 68 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous Period. As global sea levels rose, the central region of North America flooded, producing a body of water called the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway. Modern scientists dubbed the area to the east Appalachia and to the west Laramidia, after Laramie, Wyo., which is part of the terrain.

Though small, Laramidia became what the authors call "a crucible of evolution," filled with large-bodied animals, including the duck-billed hadrosaur and the dome-headed pachycephalosaur. The Kosmoceratops was unknown to science until 2007, when a University of Utah expedition in the Grand Staircase--Escalante National Monument--a 1.9 million-acre (770,000 hectare) patch of southern Utah set aside for protection in 1996--uncovered a pair of skulls like none ever seen before. They were similar to that of the Triceratops except that they had a horn over each eye, one over the nose, one protruding from either cheekbone and no fewer than 10 forming a fringe across the top of the head.

It's "a huge skull adorned with an assortment of bony bells and whistles," says Scott Sampson, a University of Utah paleontologist and the lead author of the PLoS paper. As with most such discoveries, it took years of study before a paper could be published granting the animal a name and describing its characteristics.

The almost comical array of horns on the Kosmoceratops' skull is a good example of a sort of natural selection on steroids. The protrusions would likely have been useless in battling predators and might have hindered the animal's mobility. Rather, like the tail of a peacock, the horns were probably used to attract females and intimidate male rivals.

If there is anything unsurprising about the fossil, it's that it was unearthed in Laramidia--a through-the-looking-glass world for paleontologists. The large size of so many of the dinosaurs that lived there is uncommon for a small landmass, where limited food and space should have selected for compact body plans. Scientists have never fully explained the phenomenon. "Maybe there was more food available than we realize," says Sampson. "Maybe the animals' metabolisms helped."

The fieldwork needed to answer such questions might never have begun if developers had had their way. The land in the national monument has long been coveted by the mining industry, against which conservationists battled for decades. That ended only when former President Bill Clinton granted the area protection.

Since then, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has looked after the area and played an active role in helping paleontologists explore it. "The BLM provides logistical support and even the helicopters needed to airlift elephant-size fossils," says Sampson.

The latest such trophy, Kosmoceratops itself, is on display in the Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. Sampson is now back in Utah, trying to reconstruct the entire 76 million-year-old ecosystem, from plants to bugs to rocks. "We want to get a glimpse through this window in time," he says. The view so far has been tantalizing.

Laramidia was formed when rising seas flooded central North America. Utah's Grand Staircase--Escalante was located near the banks of an inland sea

[The following text appears within a map. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual map.]






Salt Lake City

Bones discovered

The Kosmoceratops (fossil, above, and artist's rendering, top) lived 76 million years ago and had a skull covered with a bristle of 15 horns. Many of them were useless for battling predators and were probably there to attract mates instead

Source Citation
Kluger, Jeffrey. "Kosmo The Dino." Time International [Europe Edition] 176.16 (2010): 40. General OneFile. Web. 13 Oct. 2010.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A238910809

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